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A Daunting Operation Offers Relief to Obese Teenagers

Category: Health & Fitness,Lifestyle

And can a teenager be expected to commit to following the very restricted diet required after the surgery, not to mention taking the needed vitamins and minerals?

“Are they prepared to do that for the rest of their lives?” asked David B. Sarwer, a psychologist at Temple University who works with bariatric surgery patients.

Substantial weight loss can have unexpected psychological consequences in teenagers, he added.

Severe obesity “sets adolescents up for stigmatization,” he said. A severely obese teenager “is likely known by every other student in the high school not because she is a prom queen, but because she is physically the largest student in the school.”

Stigma often leaves teenagers isolated and lacking social skills, a deficit that can hinder their development even after surgery to lose weight. And when formerly obese teenagers go to college, Dr. Sarwer said, often they are so ashamed of having been fat that they keep it a secret.

Yet weight-loss surgery can be transformative.

Eric Decker, 33, a bartender and freelance makeup artist in Detroit, had the operation in 2006 when he was 17. He was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 385 pounds; no amount of dieting seemed to help.

He tried to find a surgeon in South Carolina, where he lived, to operate on him, but no one would do it. He was referred to Dr. Inge, then at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Mr. Decker lost more weight than most — he now weighs between 205 and 210 pounds.

He speaks up now when someone speaks derisively of a person who is obese. He knows how it feels to be shunned for what medical researchers now deem a chronic disease, not a lifestyle choice.

Without that experience, he said, “I don’t think I would have that lens of compassion for people with their struggles.”

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